ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday September 16, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 16

MSG: It's healthy to be aware

By Dr. Harold Gunatillake

Both the medical research community and food manufacturers have known about the side effects of MSG for decades. Many studies link MSG to diabetes, migraines and headaches, autism, ADHD, and even Alzheimer's. So what exactly is MSG or monosodium glutamate?

MSG is used as a food additive, or a flavour enhancer. It was discovered and patented in 1909 by Ajinomoto Corporation in Japan. In its pure form, it appears as a white crystalline powder and when dissolved in water or in the saliva of the mouth it rapidly dissociates into free sodium and glutamate ions. Glutamate is a naturally occurring non-essential amino acid. It widely exists in all animal and vegetable proteins. MSG is the sodium salt of glutamic acid, and one of the most common amino acids found in nature. As glutamate, it is present in virtually all foods.

It was originally used for Chinese cooking as a flavour additive, but today it is found in most food products consumed in the US. Modern commercial MSG is produced by fermentation of starch, sugar beets, sugar cane, or molasses. The fermentation process is similar to that used in making beer, wine, yoghurt or vinegar.

Most canned soups, beef and chicken stock, flavoured potato chips, snack foods, frozen dinners, fast foods, instant noodles, soy sauce, steak sauce and Worcestershire sauce, cheeses, are flavoured with added MSG. There is no difference between glutamate found in natural foods and that added as MSG. In short, all those frozen foods and canned tin foods that you purchase from your supermarket have comparable levels of glutamate as added MSG.

Glutamate itself is found naturally in human bodies as a protein. It is found naturally in mushrooms, seaweed, tomatoes, nuts, legumes, broccoli, peas, fish, meats and most dairy products, and even human milk. (20 times more than cow's milk).

Adverse effects are common with chemicals, drugs, foods, creams, etc. You cannot condemn foods because they cause adverse effects in some. Read the brochure in any antibiotic your doctor prescribes. Will you want to take it after reading the adverse effects? Will you stop taking statins to reduce the cholesterol level in your blood, when you know the adverse effects they can cause?

Food enhancers or additives can cause adverse effects on allergic subjects, those who suffer from asthma, skin disorders, etc. MSG can cause a wide range of adverse effects in some individuals. They are actually present as sodium salt of the non-essential amino acid, glutamic acid, which occurs widely in all animals and vegetable proteins. In the past it has been used to enhance memory and intelligence, to help detoxify the ammonia, which builds up in the body after hepatic coma. It is used as an ingredient in the amino acid mixtures used for intravenous feedings.

Bottles of
Soy sauce

Till recently glutamate was considered a relatively safe food additive, as it is a normal constituent of our body, but now people are starting to view it with increasing suspicion.

Several animal studies have demonstrated that glutamic acid may produce brain lesions, particularly in newborn animals. These side effects are produced, by injecting large doses of MSG. Most research work has not shown any such effects on man and even if there were, the risk of damage to the brain must be very low.

There is good evidence that MSG could be getting into the brain in some adults who suffer from Chinese restaurant syndrome, as well as children.

Dr Leslie Rogers at Monash University's Pharmacology Department, suspects that the brain is involved because some of the symptoms include visual problems such as seeing flashing lights and hallucinating. One could have a sensation of warmth in the face, a burning sensation in the skin, sweating, nausea and vomiting and that it can also mimic a heart attack with stiffness, weakness in the limbs, tingling or pain in the chest radiating to both arms and back. Some may experience a severe attack of asthma. It is also observed that these effects are found in borderline deficiency of vitamin B6.

MSG is added to Asian dishes to improve the taste. But researchers found that MSG consumption at every meal was not statistically correlated to the participant's incidence of heart disease or stroke. Also MSG does not significantly affect blood sugar or serum cholesterol levels. Diabetic people can enjoy MSG without guilt.

MSG has been on the market for many years and has stood the test of time. Those who have side reactions taking it should abstain from it. Those who have no side effects may enjoy it cautiously.

(Ref: Monosodium glutamate- from Wikipedia 10 July 2007-07-14)

MSG and obesity

I received an email recently from a friend who thought that it is best to circulate this information on MSG to all concerned. He says, "While I am unsure of the origin of this email - It is interesting and important enough to find out more!!!"

"The food additive MSG (Monosodium Glutamate) is a slow poison. MSG hides behind 25 or more names, such as "Natural Flavouring".

"I wondered if there could be an actual chemical causing the massive obesity epidemic, and so did a friend of mine, John Erb. He was a research assistant at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, and spent years working for the government. He made an amazing discovery while going through scientific journals for a book he was writing called The Slow Poisoning of America.

"In hundreds of studies around the world, scientists were creating obese mice and rats to use in diet or diabetes test studies. No strain of rat or mice is naturally obese, so scientists have to create them. They make these creatures morbidly obese by injecting them with MSG when they are first born. The MSG triples the amount of insulin the pancreas creates, causing rats (and perhaps humans) to become obese. They even have a name for the fat rodents they create: "MSG-Treated Rats."

"When I heard this, I was shocked. I went into my kitchen and checked the cupboards and the refrigerator. MSG was in everything - the soups, the flavoured potato chips, canned gravy, and some salad dressings, especially the "healthy low fat" ones. The items that didn't have MSG marked on the product label had something called Hydrolysed Vegetable Protein," which is just another name for Monosodium Glutamate.

"Other names for MSG are "Accent”, "Ajinomoto", "Natural Meat Tenderiser" etc.) But it didn't stop there.
"When our family went out to eat, we started asking at the restaurants what menu items contained MSG. Many employees, even the managers, swore they didn't use MSG.

"But when we asked for the ingredient list, MSG and Hydrolysed Vegetable Protein were everywhere. "In his book, The Slow Poisoning of America, John Erb said that MSG is added to food for the addictive effect it has on the human body. It makes people choose their product over others, and makes people eat more of it than they would if MSG wasn't added.

"The US FDA has set no limits on how much of it can be added to food. They claim it's safe to eat in any amount. For more details check the US National Library of Medicine at

Top to the page

Reproduction of articles permitted when used without any alterations to contents and the source.
© Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka. All Rights Reserved.